Save the Children (from Apocalyptic Thinking)

The following is excerpted from Fewer, Richer, Greener: Prospects for Humanity in Age of Abundance (John Wiley & Sons, 2019), Larry Siegel’s newly published book. It is available from Amazon via the link on this page.

An old story has a young man coming home from college to visit his father, who asks him, “What have you learned?”

The young man says, “I’ve just heard the worst news … and it was in astronomy class. The world is going to end in 5 billion years, when the Sun becomes a supernova.”

The father says, “I’m not sure I heard you right. The Sun is going to explode when?”

The son replies, “5 billion years.”

The father wipes his forehead and says, “Whew! You had me worried there for a moment. I thought you said 5 million.”

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The point of the story, of course, is that we can’t think sensibly about the very far future. We can barely understand the numbers involved and, if our future is constrained by astrophysics, we surely can’t do much about it. What we can do is make sure we don’t destroy the near future.

In this book, we have seen how:

  • The population explosion is coming to an end, affording an opportunity to solve problems that once seemed intractable.
  • The increase in the wealth and well-being of the world is broadening to include traditionally poor societies, which are closing the gap with traditionally rich ones.
  • Richer means greener, as resources and technology become available to solve environmental problems that may be daunting but are almost certainly surmountable.